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Published on 09/04/2019

How GRET is improving access to water, sanitation and waste management in Myanmar

For the last four years, GRET has been contributing its expertise in the water, sanitation and waste management sectors in Myanmar through various projects being conducted in the country. We take a look at the details of this prolific activity.

The population in Myanmar is mainly urban: today, one third of people in Myanmar live in cities. And this situation is not likely to be reversed in the foreseeable future. Myanmar is currently experiencing a phase of rapid urbanisation, with significant migratory movements from rural areas to cities. This urbanisation phenomenon is generating a gap between the resources put in place by the authorities and the needs of the population, particularly in terms of water, sanitation and waste management services.

Yet, according to data published in 2015 by the Joint Monitoring Program conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, 93 % of inhabitants in urban zones have access to an improved water source and 84 % to sanitation. These figures would appear to reflect a satisfactory situation, but they do not take account of the quality, reliability and durability of services. In reality, there is a discrepancy between essential requirements and services provided.

Cities are expanding, but services are dwindling

Myanmar cities face significant challenges regarding the provision of quality water, sanitation and waste management services to their citizens. Collective water, sanitation and waste management installations never cover the entire territory. Where they do exist, the quality of operations is generally well below international standards. Discontinuity of water supply, non-functional waste water evacuation systems, irregular or inexistent waste collection  in some neighbourhoods, no treatment… the quality of these services suffers from various insufficiencies.

These malfunctions are due in particular to the lack of training for service operators, and the financial and material limits these operators face. In addition, the increase in needs and higher user expectations in terms of quality of services add to an already complicated situation.

From an emergency to a development approach

Water and sanitation projects implemented by numerous NGOs, which arrived in Myanmar in the wake of cyclone Nargis in 2008, are generally located in rural zones of crisis. These projects use community-based management.

In parallel, the democratic transition that began in 2011 led to the emergence of numerous private stakeholders and donors. The latter directed their investments mainly towards projects located in Myanmar’s two largest cities: Yangon and Mandalay. very few of these initiatives target secondary cities, and when they do, they focus solely on infrastructures and their sustainability raises questions.

However, the influx of new stakeholders represents a real opportunity to improve and develop infrastructures. But while operators already have difficulties operating and maintaining existing infrastructures, it is clear that the improvements made can only be sustainable if they are accompanied by significant measures to strengthen capacities. Based on these observations, GRET’s teams, which have more than twenty years of experience in the sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam), have been working in Myanmar since 2015, to provide access to water, sanitation and waste management.

Amarapura: access to water and sanitation for 2,000 households

GRET’s approach to water, sanitation and waste management in Myanmar is in line with the organisation’s overall strategy: strengthen the capacities of stakeholders, organize methods for governance of services that are inclusive and adapted to suit each context, and generate technical innovations based on existing local initiatives.

The Amarapura project also embodies GRET’s overall strategy. Funded by the Agence française de développement (AFD), it was implemented in partnership with Suez Consulting for the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC). Launched at the end of 2016, the objective of the project is to provide access to drinking water for 2,000 households in the suburban township of Amarapura. In addition, this project aims to strengthen the MCDC’s skills in the area of water service management via close collaboration with the services concerned and the development of appropriate management tools. In 2015, the water network in the  township of Amarapura only had two subscribers. Thanks to GRET’s intervention and the implementation of the project, the deficit in communication between the MCDC and inhabitants in the area – identified as one of the main reasons for the very low number of people benefitting from the service – was reduced considerably.

This observation confirmed the pertinence of supporting the renovation and extension of the existing system, with the implementation of a social engineering strategy to facilitate inhabitants’ access to the water service. Thanks to public information meetings, door-to-door visits by dedicated agents and the opening of a local customer service centre, a relationship of confidence quickly developed. As a result, more than 300 households had already submitted a request for connection to the service before work on it had even begun, at the end of February 2019.

In parralel, the project led to support from the MCDC, which enabled the facilitation of  conditions for access to the service. A service made more accessible, thanks in particular to the definition of a fair policy based on a set connection fee. The project also made it possible for the MCDC to improve management of its customers thanks to the design of an electronic tool for reading water metres and the creation of a database.

Rosamur: a project combining waste management, access to water and sanitation

Implemented in the city of Magway, a secondary city of approximately 75,000 inhabitants, the Rosamur project follows on from a programme to strengthen the capacities of service operators in Myanmar in terms both of waste management and access to water and sanitation. Initiated at the end of 2015 by the French Embassy in Myanmar, it aims to improve the quality of urban services via the implementation of a network of stakeholders,  organisation of training and workshops to exchange experiences, and the implementation of pilot projects.

Funded by the French Embassy in Myanmar, Bordeaux Métropole, the Adour Garonne water agency, Fondation Ensemble and Syctom, the Rosamur project began in 2017. Its main objective is strengthening the capacities of the Township Development Committee (TDC) in Magway, which operates services at city level, and focuses on issues that are shared by numerous cities in the country: management of water losses, improvement of conditions for access to sanitation and optimisation of waste management, in particular via composting of market waste.

Two projects that reflect GRET’s strategy for the future in Myanmar

Through the implementation of these two projects in urban areas and experiences underway in rural areas in the North of Rakhine State and the South of Chin State, the GRET teams acquired unique experience in terms of management of essential services. Capitalisation of the knowledge acquired will make it possible in the future to inform reflections underway with a view to better structuring the water, sanitation and waste management sectors, and thereby improve the performance of services at national level.

More information on GRET’s activity in Myanmar
More information on GRET’s Drinking water, sanitation and waste management activities
See the Amarapura project factsheet
See the Rosamur project factsheet
See the proceedings of the 2016 seminar on waste management in Myanmar
See the proceedings of the 2017 seminar on waste management in Myanmar
See the Amarapura project video
See the Rosamur project video
See the Acting project video (Senegal)
See the video on the Meddea II programme (in french)
See the article entitled “3 questions to Julien Gabert on the Mémento de sanitation [Sanitation Handbook]” (in french)